What counts as a Balanced Diet on the Explorer Belt?
In Scouting Ireland, the Explorer Belt is one of the most challenging yet rewarding expeditions you can undertake. Teams of two Rover Scouts must complete a trek which usually comprises 200km on foot and up to 100km on public transport, spread across 10 days. Lots of participants report back that the walking is not the hardest part of the challenge. Teams must also complete a comprehensive log of their time on the road, maintain a route map, stick to a strict budget, complete a daily budget and undertake several challenges and personal projects. They must also eat a balanced and varied diet and complete a daily menu card.
Both of us at Campfire Kitchen are Explorer Belt holders and for the last few years have been in the Scouting Ireland Assessment Pool. We have assessed on several Venture Challenge Training Weekends. Last year, Mark T assessed the Venture Challenge (a shorter version of the Explorer Belt for Venture Scouts, aged 15-17) in Drumshanbo (He did one of his first wild swims here) and this summer, Mark G will be assessing the Explorer Belt in the Netherlands.
Having been in the Assessment Pool now for more than two years, we have had ample time to swap stories with experienced and prominent assessors. It is apparent to us, that one of the primary causes for people not being awarded their Belt is diet. We thought it would be a good idea to write a sort of guide for that element.
Managing a Budget
Perhaps most importantly and pressing at the beginning of your challenge (after figuring out where you are), is working out your budget. When Mark T was in Poland, with his Belt Partner Brendan, they had around £1.20 between the two of them per day to live on. They also decided to spend a considerable portion of their budget on getting a deposable camera developed (cut him some slack it was 2007).
Sit down at the beginning of your Belt, work out your budget per day and stick to it. When recording your budget in your log, you need to do it daily.
On the top of your cash flow sheet, have the total amount of money you started with that day. Then list all your expenditures for the day, backed up with organised and coherent receipts, bring a stapler. We only had electrical tape! At the bottom then, you should finish with your new total. The following day, your new total should be at the top of the page and so it continues. You’ll need to do this for food and separately for public transport. Even if you don’t spend any money on a given day, that day’s log still needs to have a cash flow record showing no out-goings.
Inability to look after your money will result in you and your partner not receiving the Belt. Keep on top of it, record it everyday and look after your receipts and it shouldn’t be a problem.
Your Explorer Belt Menu
Carbs. You’re doing a lot of walking with a heavy pack. You need your energy and for that, you’ll need plenty of carbs. Get them where you can. Bread is cheap and easy to come by. Pasta too, and it keeps a long time. Rice is pretty good but it takes ages to cook. Potatoes are available all over Europe but are heavy as! Two of our friends, Conor and Colum lived on cous cous on their belt!
Protein is next in importance. We’ve talked about budget so we aren’t going to be talking steak here! Do a little research about where you’re going first and see what is commonly grown and eaten in your host country. In Poland, Mark T was in the land of the kielbasa, a Polish sausage. So they got most of their protein from different types of sausage. Chicken is also good but can be dear. If you go into a butcher shop, you’ll be able to buy one chicken breast rather than having to buy a packet. If budget is tight there are plenty of other options. Cans of lentils and beans are cheap, eggs, cheese and yogurt too! Don’t discount the veggie options!
Belt teams often forget about their five-a-day! Though we’ll not keep strictly to the number 5. In our experience vegetables are much cheaper than fresh fruits. Look at your carbs and proteins and think “How can I squeeze a vegetable in?” Onions, carrots, spinach, tomatoes are usually cheap and can add an extra dimension to your meal plan and will keep the assessors off your back! If you can, buy a larger pack to use across two meals. If you must have fruit, tins are a good option.
Treats! Ten days is a long time to eat perfectly and no one expects that. Don’t be afraid to spoil yourself once or twice (don’t over do it). On a really hot day, an ice cream might be on the cards? Or if you are unlucky enough to be caught in a storm, maybe a hot chocolate would cheer you up? These things are OK and justifiable but don’t go too far and fail to keep enough funds in the bank for proper food down the line.
If you are a picky eater, you will need to make concessions I’m afraid. The criteria for the belt states that you must, “Give details of how you followed a balanced diet on a daily basis supported by detailed menus.“ So vary your diet, eat something green once in a while.
With ten days of relying on people’s generosity and asking to camp in garden and field alike, the chances are, you will be offered a meal or two. You should of course accept! Home cooked food is a Godsend on the road and to refuse might appear rude. A common thing assessors pick up on is people not planning their next meal. When you stop somewhere for the night, you should have your dinner and your breakfast with you. Consider your own house, if Scouts camped in your garden, would your parents let them leave without a good breakfast? You should not put people under pressure to feed you. By all means let them if they want but assessors will check your receipts and try to figure out what the plan was.
Plans can change
In Poland, Mark T and Brendy arrived at a house with kielbasa, pasta, sauce and an onion for dinner and bread and cream cheese for breakfast. We were offered a big home cooked meal of chicken with white sauce and rice. This changed our plans! That night, we took stock and made a new plan. Breakfast would remain unchanged, lunch the next day would be kielbasa sandwiches. We figured the sausages wouldn’t keep. The pasta, onion and sauce would last to the next night which we could add to a tin of tuna. When this happens, don’t worry, just make a note in your log book of what the plan was; what happened that changed the plan and; what the new plan is. Remember, your log books must be a “comprehensive account of your total time spent on the road”.
Your Explorer Belt
We hope this hasn’t scared you. The assessors are there to give you the Belt all you have to do is follow the criteria. Please, and we cannot stress this enough, PLEASE READ THE CRITERIA!
The Belt is your experience and truthfully, there is no guide that can be written that will prepare you for it. Try not to think of the logs too much as work. Mark T did his belt 11 years ago and Mark G’s was 10 years ago. We still cherish our logs. Keep them fun, record what’s important to you and you’ll have something you’ll want to keep forever. You will have a ball and, all going well, if you do the miles, follow the guidelines and keep on top of the written work you should hear that faithful phrase at the award ceremony.
“Certificate, Badge and Belt”
Some meal suggestions
We know a few people who have completed the Explorer Belt and we asked them to tell us what their favourite meals were. We’ve also added a few ourselves.
- Bread and creamed cheese
- Bread and jam/honey/butter/marmalade
- Boiled eggs
- Ham, bacon, (kielbasa) or cheese sandwiches
- Beans and toast
- Pasta salad with mayo, bacon and sweetcorn
- Rice, black beans with a Mexican sauce
- Chicken curry with tinned peas and rice
- Chickpea curry and rice
- Tuna, mayo pasta
- Tomato and spinach pasta
- Kielbasa fried with onions with tomato pasta
- Egg fried noodles with spring onions
NOTE: Please forgive my spelling in the photos of the log book! It was a long time ago!